Star Trek
directed by J.J. Abrams
(Paramount, 2009)

To be honest, I didn't think it could be done.

I'm one of those old-time fans. I grew up on episodes of Star Trek in syndication. I cheered the return of the original cast to the movies. I followed closely -- at times more with a sense of loyalty than enthusiasm -- the various series set within the Next Generation, and I even stepped back in time to the early days of Enterprise.

But when Hollywood chatter turned to rebooting the saga from the start, placing new actors in the roles of Kirk, Spock and the rest of the crew from the original series, I balked. I shuddered. I'm not sure, but I may have even gnashed my teeth and tore my hair, just a little.

But I will gladly, exuberantly admit that director J.J. Abrams and the cast and crew of this new Star Trek -- the first feature film to go just by that name -- have given me no choice but to change my mind. Even my wife -- who is more a fan of Picard than Kirk, perish the thought -- loved the film. ("It made me cry in under five minutes," she said to me at the beginning. How often do you hear that at a Star Trek movie?)

No wonder. The first few minutes of the film show a pivotal moment in the life of George Kirk, James T.'s father, in a dramatic, timeline-altering event aboard the USS Kelvin, with an entirely new take on the Romulans.

The story flashes forward from there, and viewers are introduced to younger versions of Kirk, Spock, Uhura and McCoy, etc., as we go.

The less said about the plot the better; it's best to go into the movie knowing as little as possible. Suffice it to say that filmmakers have crafted a Trek that will move the young captain and crew of Enterprise forward in a very different direction than we've known before. While playing around with alternate realities and timelines is always a dicey prospect, I can honestly say this one works.

As for the cast, I am pleased to say it's obvious that most of these young actors have obviously studied their predecessors in their roles. Karl Urban, for instance, isn't merely playing Dr. McCoy; he's playing DeForrest Kelley as Dr. McCoy. And when Chris Pine's Kirk smiles in the face of danger, you can see obvious shades of William Shatner's old hell-bent grin.

There is a shipboard romance that makes little sense -- particularly given the characters' teacher-student relationship -- but otherwise, these folks have nailed it.

The film is a joy to watch. It is a joy, believe it or not, to see those old, primary-hued uniforms back in action. And it's a joy to listen as people around me -- some diehard Trek fans, some more generic science-fiction enthusiasts, some folks who just bought a ticket and walked through the door without much awareness of existing Kirk-Spock lore -- excitedly discussed the nuances of the film and made plans for a second, third or fourth viewing on the big screen.

I know I'll be back to see it again. And I'll be watching eagerly for announcements of a sequel. The Star Trek franchise is alive and well ... something I can say with more certainty than I have since Kirk's mishandled death in Generations.

review by
Tom Knapp

16 May 2009

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